Sabtu, 9 April 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Tokyo needs quake plan rethink after Japan disaster

Posted: 09 Apr 2011 07:33 PM PDT

TOKYO, April 10 — More than 10,000 people dead, hundreds of thousands injured, nearly one million buildings destroyed, millions forced to evacuate and a fifth of Japan's economy wiped out.

That's the scenario forecast if a huge magnitude 7.3 earthquake hits Japan's capital of Tokyo, a disaster experts say has a 70 per cent risk of occurring over the next 30 years.

Tokyo planners have been working for decades to mitigate the damage from a quake of that scale and the country has some of the world's strictest quake-resistance building standards.

But a month after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake — the biggest in Japan's recorded history — and huge tsunami devastated northeast Japan, some say it's time to prepare for far worse.

Tokyo had a tiny taste of what would happen when the March 11 quake, its epicentre about 300km northeast, halted trains, stranded commuters, snarled phone communication, caused power shortages and within hours saw stores stripped of daily necessities such as bread and milk.

"Many people said what happened was beyond expectations, but I believe it's the responsibility of government to prepare for the unexpected," said Hideo Higashikokubaru, who is running as an independent in today's election for Tokyo governor.

Experts agree Tokyo needs to rethink its plans, including what to do if disaster strikes nuclear power plants located even closer to the capital than the crippled Fukushima plant 240km away, where engineers are trying to contain the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

"If a bigger earthquake strikes Tokyo, we might face a catastrophe," said Takaaki Kato, a professor at the University of Tokyo's International Center for Urban Safety Engineering and a member of a government advisory panel on disaster plans.

"Preparation still isn't enough for a magnitude 7.3 quake. Although there would be damage and people would suffer, it would be possible to recover," he said.

"But we need to revise policies so even if there is a quake of about magnitude 8.0, we can limit the damage and confusion."

The last major earthquake to strike Tokyo was the 1923 magnitude 7.9 tremor that killed more than 140,000 people and devastated much of the capital and nearby Yokohama.

A magnitude 7.3 earthquake would be bad enough, since Tokyo and nearby urban areas are now home to 35 million of Japan's 128 million people and about one-third of its economy.

A government report has forecast that a quake of that scale directly under Tokyo would kill up to 11,000 people, injure about 210,000, force 7 million to evacuate and cost the US$5 trillion (RM15.1 trillion) economy around US$1 trillion in damages — three times the estimate for damage from the March 11 disaster.

Wanting to flee

Reconstruction costs would be a huge burden on a nation already staggering under public debt equal to about twice GDP.

"Japan has enough savings surplus to fund reconstruction of (the quake-hit northeast) ... but if you had to multiply the costs for Tokyo, Japan would become dependent on foreign funds," said Jesper Koll, director of equities research at JP Morgan in Tokyo.

One question is how Tokyo would cope with a nuclear crisis closer to the capital, such as at Chubu Electric Power's Hamaoka plant 200km to the southwest.

"There is no plan for a case in which the entire area becomes contaminated with radiation," Kato said. "People would want to flee, but they couldn't all at once. If that happens, we may have to evacuate children as was done during the war."

The spectre of disaster in the capital has prompted an advisor to Prime Minister Naoto Kan to propose creating a shadow government in another part of Japan.

"We need to think about either dispersing government functions or creating a backup system in western Japan," Hosei University professor Takayoshi Igarashi told Reuters.

Others say that is impractical given the huge cost. And while Tokyo-based companies are reviewing business continuity plans (BCP) in light of the recent disaster, a major dispersal of economic activity would be difficult.

"You have to understand the dynamics of what makes cities like Tokyo grow and why companies take the risk. It's because ... the decision-making process is there," said Fouad Bendimerad, head of the Earthquakes and Megacities Initiative, a scientific group that promotes better disaster preparedness.

"At the end of the day, taking risk will just be part of doing business," he said. "There is no place in Japan that is safe from earthquakes." — Reuters

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Japan ready to stop pumping radioactive water into sea

Posted: 09 Apr 2011 07:11 PM PDT

A radiation monitor indicates 0.95 microsieverts per hour at an area hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which is about 20km (12 miles) from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station, in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, April 9, 2011. — Reuters pic

TOKYO, April 10 — Japanese engineers hope to stop pumping radioactive water into the sea today and start moving more highly contaminated water out of a crippled nuclear reactor — a key step in gaining access and restoring the critical cooling system.

An unmanned drone helicopter is scheduled to fly over four reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, north of Tokyo, to video the extent of damage in areas where workers are unable to safely enter due to high radiation.

Japan is struggling to contain the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated its northeast March 11, with neighbouring countries expressing alarm over possible contamination drifting in their direction.

"There are still numerous aftershocks and there is no room for complacency regarding the situation (at Fukushima Daiichi)," Japan's Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.

Efforts to regain control of six reactors hit by the 15m high tsunami, which caused partial meltdowns to some reactor cores after fuel rods were overheated, has been hindered by 60,000 tonnes of radioactive water.

Workers have poured in seawater to cool fuel rods, but in the process have left the plant flooded with radioactive water which they have pumped back into the sea to make room for much more contaminated water.

"Some of the highly radioactive water will be moved within the plant. But a second and third solution needs to be discovered as water is being pumped in constantly, increasing the total amount," Fukuyama told local television today.

Neighbours China and South Korea have criticised Japan's action, reflecting growing international unease over the month-long nuclear crisis and the spread of radiation.

China has banned imports of farm products from 12 areas.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) apologised yesterday over the crisis.

"I would like to apologise from my heart over the worries and troubles we are causing for society due to the release of radiological materials into the atmosphere and seawater," Sakae Muto, a TEPCO vice president, told a news conference.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is scheduled to visit Ishinomaki city today, one of the areas hardest hit by the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami which left 28,000 people dead or missing, and northeastern Japan a splintered wreck.

More than 153,000 people affected by the tsunami and radiation are living in school gymnasiums and other evacuation centres. Several tsunami-damaged cities have begun moving families into temporary housing.

Banri Kaieda, a minister whose portfolio includes the nuclear industry, said he hoped evacuees from the radiation zone in Fukushima could visit their homes as soon as possible.

Japan has made evacuation mandatory for people living within a 20km radius of the crippled reactor and urged those living between 20km and 30km from the plant to stay indoors.

"There were expectations among the evacuees that they could return to their homes for one night, but they will only be able to stay for a few hours to gather their personal belongings," Kaieda was quoted by Jiji news agency as saying in Fukushima.

Global radiation concerns

Radiation from Japan spread around the entire northern hemisphere in the first two weeks of the nuclear crisis, according to the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation.

TEPCO engineers say they are far from being in control of the damaged reactors and it could take months to stabilise them and years to clear up the toxic mess left behind.

Nuclear reactor maker Toshiba Corp has proposed a 10-year plan to decommission four of the six damaged reactors at the plant, 240km north of Tokyo, said Kyodo news agency. But the government has said it was too early to have a "specific road map" for ending the crisis.

Several countries have restricted food imports from Japan over radiation fears as its economy reels from the country's worst disaster since World War Two.

Food is a tiny part of Japan's export-oriented economy, but disruptions to its manufacturing and electronics supply chains are reverberating around the world.

Automaker Toyota Motor Corp plans to idle some of US plants late in April, while Honda Motor Co Ltd has extended reduced US production until April 22.

Power blackouts and restrictions, factory shutdowns, and a sharp drop in tourists have hit the world's most indebted nation, which is facing a damages bill as high as US$300 billion (RM906 billion), making it by far the world's costliest natural disaster. — Reuters

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